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1982: Uncertain Smile

The moment I threw the snowball I knew I’d made a terrible

mistake but it had left my hand by then, and no rewind or

pause would ever be possible. In the fraction of time before

impact, Tony, my implacable foe, was standing with his mates

in the dirty evening snow. The glint from his glasses and that

ridiculous moustache made him look older and more solid

than those other flickering ghostly faces. He was laughing,

part of the gang, whereas I was the outsider, up on the

buttress, watching the cluster of punks, like a company of

bedraggled parrots, waiting for their bus back to town. All

except Tony, in his shiny new leather jacket and immaculately

lined-up studs, band names stencilled with surgeons’

precision and an Exploited t-shirt ironed by his mum.

Despite my schoolboy error I wished I’d remembered the

new camera to capture Tony, laughing, the mucky snowball

hovering above, describing a perfect arc; to freeze that frozen

moment and all that had come before it, the hurts, the sleights,

Tony and Julie laughing as they read a book about a bird, my

father’s proud expression as he handed me the parcel,

everything motionless in this, the coldest moment in the

coldest night in history, still illuminated in my brain 25 years

later like an image exposed by lightning.

From this great distance I sometimes fancy that as that ball

of ice hung there over Millmoor, I also glimpsed lightning

flashes of the future: of Becky’s tears and Sarah’s giggles, the

moons of Australia and the smells of India; and perhaps the

magic snowball even covered the sun’s eyes as Hermione

kissed me on a Cornish beach. Other flashes too, other

glimpses, which I will perhaps only fully decipher when my

life follows the snowball’s trajectory and becomes a cold

white point.

According to Zeno of Elea, the snowball could never reach

its target because it needed to halve the distance from me to

Tony and then halve it again, ad infinitum. But, not

understanding physics, the snowball began its descent, my

camera-less hands already in pockets, teeth chattering, the

night black and white, the street lights orange. Tony was still

laughing, pretending to shove another plastic punk beneath

the wheels of an old green bus that sprayed the queue, making

them spin and turn their backs. All except Tony, whose

reactions were slow and who took the full force of the

gravity-snared snowball right in the mush.

Tony dropped to his knees, face in hands, and his little

gang of townies spread out like cowboys under attack as they

looked in every direction but up. I stared down, swallowing

unease, unable to see Julie anywhere in this tragic tableaux I

had painted. I then ducked back out of sight and ran...


*This is an extract of “Fire Horses” by M L Piggott.

“Fire Horses”: synopsis and quotes

“Fire Horses”: buy it here



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